Otsukimi: Mid-Autumn Festival in Japan

by Louie Anne Batac

In Japan, it is said that the moon glows brightest during mid-Autumn when the evening air is relieved of summer’s heat. Few can argue with the gorgeous moon during this highly-anticipated season: lanterns mimic her light in beckoning shades of white and yellow, and she lends her supernatural charm to each of them!

Mid-Autumn in Japan is marked by Otsukimi (お月見, moon-viewing). Originally introduced by the Chinese in the 8th century, the tradition took hold in Japan during the Heian period through Japanese aristocrats who would host viewing parties on boats, in gardens and tea houses.

ukiyo-e print of moon-gazing couple
Ukiyoe print by artist Torii Kiyonaga of a couple gazing at the moon from their veranda.

What started as a poetic admiration by the elite spread to townspeople and farmers, and their shared reverence for nature further shaped it into its modern-day form. These days, Otsukimi--also called Jugoya (十五夜) to reflect the timing of the celebration on the old calendar--serves as an opportunity for families to gather and pray for a good harvest or good fortune. A full moon is considered auspicious and a symbol of abundance.

Music and tea ceremonies usually accompany moon-viewing but a signature (and scrumptious!) feature is dango. The perfectly plump, moon-shaped rice dumplings are hard to miss! Piled in a pyramid and paired with seasonal fruit, they are artfully placed on altars, by windows, or at other prime spots for viewing the lunar beauty. Pampas grass are also used to frame these offerings to the moon, and it is believed that their sharp cut blades have protective power from evil spirits.

Staring at these white spheres can really work up an appetite!

Before you bite into the mini-moon in your hand, look closely at the full moon in the sky—you might see Moon Rabbit pounding into a pestle of dango!

Japan's best snack subscription box - Bokksu

Author Bio